Safety First!

Brightly colored swim-caps…swim buddies…Road ID…calm water…I think we’re ready to swim!

(BTW | kayakers were already in the water…and it’s Ironman weekend, so that ski-jump was not in use by skiers)


It looks like the warm weather is here to stay (the last few days not withstanding), and with the warmer weather, people of Wisconsin come out of hibernation and start doing things OUTSIDE again!  And that means that it’s a good time for a little bit of a safety review.  

Jessica Laufenberg from SBR Coaching was a recent guest in the Active Zone.  I had the opportunity to talk with Jessica about open-water swimming, and more specifically | open-water swim SAFETY.  Jessica offered several very simple tips for open water swimming…

* Always swim with someone else.  A swim-buddy is essential in staying safe in open water for several reasons, the most obvious being that the two (or more) of you can keep an eye on each other and be there for each other should anything go wrong.  Just make sure that your swim buddy swims at a pace pretty close to your own.  Another great reason to swim with a buddy or buddies…think about the fact that 2 people are more visible than 1…3, 4, 5 or 10 are even more visible.  Passing boats and people are much more likely to see a group of swimmers than one individual.

* Swim with a boater.  It’s great to have someone alongside you in a boat, again for several reasons.  Visibility is probably the biggest reason for swimming with a boater, other boaters are much more likely to see a canoe or kayak than a swimmer and will most likely avoid that general area, or at the very least slow down a bit through the area where you are swimming.   The side of a canoe or kayak is also great to grab onto when you get tired. The boater also has a better view of the lake and more easily keep you on course while you swim.  It’s also nice to have someone in a canoe or kayak watching over you, should something go wrong. Finally,  if that person in the canoe or kayak is your swim-coach, they’ve got a great view of what you are doing in the water and can help you make corrections to your technique.  

* Wear a Road ID.  Hopefully you will never need it, but if you do, the Road ID has all your information | from emergency contact information to allergies or any other special conditions that recue workers might need to be aware of.

* Wear bright colors!  Most of us swim wearing a black wetsuit.  Why did they make BLACK the color of choice for wetsuits?  Counter that brilliant move with a brightly colored swim-cap (do I really need to tell you why this is a good idea?).  You get a free cap at almost every race these days | keep a couple of the brightest ones with your swim gear at all times, so you always have one…and a backup for the morning that you rip your cap before you even get into the lake.

* Scout out location.  Take a good look at where you plan to swim and determine if it is a safe spot for you.  Are there lots of motor boats in the area?  Is it deep, beyond what you are used to?  How are the water conditions?  Calm or wavey?  There are several places in the Madison area where boat traffic is light and the waves are generally calm.  Try Fireman’s Park in Verona, Lake Wingra or Devil’s Lake to start. There’s even canoe rentals at Devil’s Lake and Lake Wingra.

* Keep it close to shore.  Again, there are multiple reasons for this | and again the most obvious is safety.  Motorboats are more likely to be further out, and even if they are close to shore, they are more likely to be traveling slowly close to shore.  It’s also comforting to know that close to shore, you can just stand up, should something go wrong | which you probably can’t do further out.  And there are some skills that you can practice close to shore, that you can’t practice in the really deep water; dolphin-dives, entering and exiting the water, even stripping off the wetsuit, are all things that need to happen close to shore.